Does God Expect Perfection?

The English poet Alexander Pope famously states in his 1711 poem, An Essay on Criticism, “To err is human” (Alexander Pope, The Poems of Alexander Pope, ed. John Butt (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1963), 160). Many presume that even the Heavenly Father cannot expect Christians to be perfect because they are humans. Humans cannot help but sin; it is just their nature. As if to take accountability away, implying that sin is inevitable, and people have no choice. Nearly every Christian has said or heard it preached, “God doesn’t expect us to be perfect,” implying that perfection extends beyond the human reach. Can this principle be found in the Bible?

One individual explained and asked, “God made us human, and He knows that we are not perfect, He doesn’t expect us to be perfect. If there is a verse that says, ‘Thou shalt be perfect’ then where is it?” The simple response to this question was “Matthew 5:48: ‘Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.’” These were the words of Christ spoken during His Sermon on the Mount. God did create humans, and no human except one has ever not violated God’s Word at least once. However, being in physical flesh did not force individuals to sin. When Christ was born of woman and became man, He was tempted as any other person is tempted, yet Christ did not sin, which showed humanity that being in the human form does not mean that sin is a requirement (Heb. 4:15; 2 Cor. 5:21); sin is a choice (Rom. 6:12,13), and God expects His followers to always make the right choice (Luke 16:10; Rom. 6:1,2).  

God inspired man through the Spirit to provide all that humanity needs for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). There is no excuse for not knowing the right choice (Acts 17:30). God expects Christians to live perfectly and thoroughly furnished unto all good works (2 Tim. 3:17). James reminds the biblical readers, “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10). James reveals that Christians must follow the law perfectly in every aspect that is required of man lest man be found guilty of violating God’s law. Even one sin can keep one out of heaven (1 John 3:4; Isa. 59:2).

If God does not demand perfection and people may freely ignore one or two sins and still go to Heaven (you don’t have to get everything right all the time), then the problem becomes, which sins does God excuse? How does one decide and who gets to decide? Does it matter? If it doesn’t matter, then Christians can decide for themselves on an individual basis which sins they just can’t overcome, live in the sin, and still be righteous. This does not work. The church of the first century has split tens of thousands of times because of this issue. If God doesn’t demand perfection, there can be no unity in the church.

People will always disagree on what sins or commands are more important, they will get offended that one person disagrees with them and violates a command that they believe is too important to violate. Denominationalism stems from the idea that not all laws of God are created equal. Denominationalism functions on the practice of people getting together in groups based on their interpretations of which commands of God matter the most and which commands can be excused, while each group believing they are acceptable to God. People cannot and will not ever agree, even in the same church, which commands are more important and which commands are less important. Therefore, God solved this problem by saying they are all equally important and no one can violate even one (James 2:10,11). No one has the right to give more credence to one command from another. Christians must keep all the commands equally. This is the only way there can be unity in the church (1 Cor. 4:6).

Nevertheless, to be clear in what Christ means when He states, “Be ye therefore perfect…” one must ask, “What does Christ mean by ‘perfect’?” The Bible utilizes the word “perfect” in a slightly different manner than how most people use the word “perfect” today, keeping in mind that the connotations and meanings of words can change with time. The word “perfect” as used in the Bible comes from the Greek word “teleios” [tel’-i-os] meaning complete, wanting nothing (Thayer and Strong Greek Lexicon). God requires that those who desire to be obedient must be complete, which can only come through Christ (Col. 2:10), and the words of God given by His inspiration (2 Tim. 3:16,17). “Perfect” does not mean that Christians will never do anything wrong, it means they have everything they need to do right and be right every time.

For God to allow mankind to be corrupted by the world and then not give humans a way to escape the corruption would be a violation of His words in 1 Corinthians 10:13b: “…who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape…” God understands that man, as a whole, has fallen short of His glory (Rom. 3:23), as such, God provides a means of reconciling the world to Him, the ministry of reconciliation, the gospel system of salvation, the law of Christ (2 Cor. 5:18-20). Only through COMPLETE obedience to God’s plan of salvation and one’s full and uncompromising adherence to the law of God can one be perfect. Claimed followers of God cannot use “to err is human” as an excuse to be a lazy and sinful Christian (Rom. 3:5-8; 6:15).  

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